Fitness lets Roddick down at Sony

Twenty hours is not enough time for recovery — not if you are a 29-year-old athlete with major mileage on your body. It’s not excuse, just a fact, and Andy Roddick wasn’t pretending otherwise after losing 7-5, 6-0 to Juan Monaco of Argentina the day after he stunned Roger Federer in the Sony Ericsson Open.

“There’s no way around it,” he said Tuesday with no sign of self-pity. “When you have to make a quick recovery, it will expose you if you’re not in shape. I didn’t have it physically. I got to about 4-all and I was — you know — out of shape.”

After being injured in the Australian Open in January, Roddick was told he would need six to eight for recovery. But he played San Jose in three. “Now we’re looking at seven to eight weeks (since Australia), and I’m starting to feel better. My tennis has come a long way recently. I feel healthy. There was a lot of progress. I feel good enough where I can put in the work away from the court and get my legs back under me as far as strength and fitness.”

Monaco is just the type of obdurate baseliner a player short of fitness does not want to face. As he felt his legs go, Roddick knew he needed to try and shorten the points. But Monaco loves nothing better than a target, and the sight of Roddick at the net was something he relished. Rarely making a mistake, he pounded forehand passes down the line and grabbed his opportunities like the good pro he is. He was well supported, too. This event always has a big South American following, and the clusters of Argentines waving flags all over the stadium drowned out the plaintive cries of “Come on, Andy!”

Roddick’s defeat ruined the chance of a quarterfinal match up against his great friend Mardy Fish, who had beaten Nicolas Almagro earlier in the day. “We have done it 12, 13 times before,” said Roddick, who is 9-3 all-time against Fish but has lost the past two meetings. “I think it’s a little bit more intriguing now because the tables have turned a little bit and he’s the top guy and I’m not. That probably lends itself to be a little bit more of a popcorn match. But it’s always hard to play someone who’s like a brother to you.”

But that will have to wait. For Roddick, the next few weeks are all about getting fit enough to head over to Europe and play a clay-court event before the French Open in May. The work will be done with longtime coach Larry Stefanki, although, as Roddick pointed out, “I’m not the kind of guy who needs to be baby-sat. I will do my work.”

He always has. You don’t get to be top 10 in the world for 10 years without it. But getting back there from No 34 isn’t going to be easy.